Friday, August 14, 2009


Okay, I changed my mind.
After getting off the all night train, making it past the money changers and the bazaar at the beat up old train station, into the metro, off the metro into the sweaty street, and finding only a crappy hotel, I was thinking that Baku was a pretty nasty place. My hotel was crummy and noisy ( I had to wear earplugs during the day because of the street traffic). But I knew the shower worked (when I asked to see a room, they let me into one of the unoccupied rooms. When I opened the door to check out the bathroom, there was a guy standing there taking a shower--so I figured the shower worked.)  But after a day or two I found most of the town was in pretty good shape or undergoing reconstruction. At any rate, it was a pretty nice city, and appeared to have lots of money, sitting there on all that oil. At night, when they had all the fountains going, and everybody was prancing up and down on the big parkway on the Caspian Shore (my hotel was only a block off the park there) and on the carnival rides, and the restaurants, and all that, it was really quite nice. The weather was not as hot as it was in the Stans--although a bit warmer than Armenia and Georgia. All in all, a nice way to end the adventure part of the trip.
OK--here's an interesting sidelight about how busy Baku airport is: I asked one of the airline guys what gate I should be at after I got my (handwritten) boarding pass. He said "In Baku, it does not matter.....just go around here to the right."
I'm in the departure area waiting for the flight to Vienna. This pretty much ends the "Silk Road" for me. I am sure I will have some reflections on that adventure as time goes on. But as for now, By-Bye Baku and the Silk Road.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fire Worshippers

Baku, Azerbaijan, August 13, 2009
You know, I thought this trip was going to be about Communists, Buddhists, Muslims, and a few Christians. I had forgotten completely about Zoroastrians until I ran into a few museum displays. And today, reading Lonely Planet, I found a whole Zoroastrian temple about ten kilometers north of town. It seems they were big deals around here because Azerbaijan is sitting on a petrochemical basin, just as is Iran and Saudi Arabia. There is so much natural gas and oil around here that it bubbles to the surface. Seems that all you have to do is light one of these seeps, and you have an "eternal" flame. Get a few worshippers together, and you can build a religion around it. That is what Zoroaster did. This fellow in the picture is from the temple museum. He is not really worshipping the fire, but an incandescent light bulb (see the cord at the bottom) made up to look like an eternal flame! Fact is, at this particular place, they have tapped out enough of the natural gas, that it no longer has the pressure to flow to the surface. So, they have to pump some of the city supply of gas into the temple to keep the sacred flame going. And they turn it off when the museum closes.
I had a great time getting here this morning. I blew some of the main rules for travelling. I forgot to look recruit a local on the bus to tell me where to get off. So, I went past the place by about thirty kilometers (I did not know it was only about ten kilometers out of town--could not tell on a map). So, I had to head back. Then the first local who thought he knew what he was doing told me to get off a Madshrootna at a model of the temple they had built along the freeway, rather than the temple itself, which was several kilometers away, so I had to go back where I started on a couple of marshrootnas and start that part of the trip over again. It was fun. Frustrating, but fun when I finally got to where I was going.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rainy day in Georgia

Train Just inside Azerbaijan, August 11, 2009   
Don't blame me if today's picture is not exactly sparkling. It was a rainy day in Georgia. I walked around Tbilisi (whose Russian name is Tiflis, which reminds one of an STD. How appropriate!). I was looking for something interesting, and finally had to settle on a McFlurry just before getting on the train. Had nothing to do with Tbilisi or Tiflis--but it sure tasted good.
It was not that Tbilisi is not pretty. It is in many ways one of the prettier of the former Soviet capital cities. It's just that it was raining, and the Soviet concrete, and all the things that are broken, or under construction, or whatever get depressing after a short time. Especially in the gray rain. I wonder if these things that were built over the years here were ever really nice--or were they always just big, drab, blocks of things that don't quite work?
At any rate, I am on a train, a sleeper to Baku. It took three hours to clear the border, but they let me through. The guy across the compartment from me is hacking and wheezing--but who do you think got asked the medical questions. And the medical inspector had no idea about how to speak English. Even looking at my passport, he could not tell my name, birthdate, etc. (I thought it was because they use a different alphabet--but the Azeri alphabet is very Latinate!!! Why would you put a ghuy who does not understand how to read a passport identifying information at all in charge of the border patrol???)  At any rate, they let me thorough (despite a raging sore throat that I forgot to tell them abnout. Thus they completed my country collecting for this trip. I'm at 73--or 83, depending on what you count. From now on, I will be retracing steps and seeing countries I have visited before, and thus won't add to this silly total.